YARN, the Young Adult Review Network is thrilled to be celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. When it launched in January of 2010, it was the first independent online literary journal of short-form YA to publish short stories, essays, and poetry by writers of any age and stature. In five years, it has discovered many exciting new YA voices, including teens, and published them alongside YA luminaries like Cecil Castellucci, Steve Brezenoff, Mitali Perkins, and Sara Zarr. YARN also offers lesson plans for teachers and a blog with excellent advice for writers, penned by the staff. Two YARN stories have won Magazine Merit honors from the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and the journal has also won an Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation.
Kerri Majors, Diana Renn, and Kip Rechea Wilson are all published writers and mothers of young children, in addition to being the lead editors of this award-winning journal. We invited them to sit down and discuss some of the secrets to their success.
(Editor’s note: Kerri and Kip had a chance to chat a little bit while their colleague Diana was battling traffic and settling down to work at Panera—it turns out that working on the fly, wherever and whenever they can, is a common occurrence for these busy editors. Once everyone got settled, they turned to the business of this candid Friday afternoon chat on the challenges and joys of juggling their careers and families, as well as what trends they see in YA, and tips on how to get published.)
On Juggling Editing and Writing…
Kerri: Hi, Diana!
Diana: Whew! Hi!
Kip: We are ready to pick your menu options! I hear you are logging in from Panera?
Diana: So, so sorry for being late, guys!
Kip: No worries.
Kerri: Not to worry. It happens all the time to me, too.
Diana: Where to begin?
Kerri: Maybe that is how we should begin: The Realities of Editing/Writing/Parenting. Being late.
Diana: Yes, chronically ten minutes behind, that is me ...
Kerri: And Being Understanding.
Kip: So true. It's always a juggling act.
Diana: So we're all writers and parents and editors—and jugglers …
Kip: And readers!
Kerri: So Kip, since you're the latest YARN Editor, how are you finding the juggling between writing and editing? (But I definitely want to loop back to the reading!)
Kip: I personally set aside times on my schedule for specific things. So, for instance, I am an early bird, so I reserve very early morning for my own writing. It gets my best brain. But later in the day, I find I still want to be in the writing world, and so editing, or reading submissions, is perfect for nighttime.
Kerri: Do you physically block out times for specific tasks on your calendar, so that, if you look at your calendar, you'll know what you're doing that hour? I do that.
Kip: I do! At 5:00 a.m. I'm either writing or swimming.
Kerri: I also try to write in the morning—but once my daughter is in school, at about 9am. I am not great first thing in the morning. I need food and a little puttering first. Diana?
Diana: I am so drawn to the idea of blocking out times and keeping them sacred, but I haven't mastered that yet. I'm a night writer. I pay for it later, but I get that concentrated time with no interruptions, less chance of e-mails coming in, peace.
I find I can do some editing work while my kid is around. The beauty of reading and editing short stories is you can accomplish things within shorter blocks of time.
Kerri: I find that, too, Diana.
Diana: So I pick up YARN work like knitting, actually. If I see I have a one- or two-hour block, I know I can get through some submissions or edit a story.
Kerri: (Hehe, YARN work is like knitting.)
Kip: Yes! Even more so for poetry. It's really nice, actually, to read submissions in between tending to kids.
Kerri: I do much YARN work in one-hour blocks during the afternoon; I lug my laptop with me everywhere. I'm the mom who works while her daughter is in ballet.
Diana: My favorite time to work on YARN stuff is Sunday mornings at a cafe, when my kid is at Sunday school. Coffee, a croissant, short stories—bliss!
Kerri: That does sound heavenly!
Kip: Yes, it does! I do something similar (except it's flamenco for my girls).
Kerri: So what I'm hearing is: The writing requires larger blocks of time, while the editing can be done in shorter chunks? And even on the go?
Diana: I'd say that's true—though I'm now worried I'm giving the impression it can be done without much thought, in a breezy way.
Kip: Yes, for sure. I'm sure it's different for editors of novels, but I love being able to squeeze it in.
Kerri: Yes, I agree. We are all writing novels ourselves, but we’re editing short works.
Diana: To be more clear: YARN can be done in short bursts of concentrated time. If I know I'll be super distracted, I won't edit.
Kerri: Yes, Diana—the same is true for me.
Kip: Also, when I read poetry submissions, I read them once and then go off to mull them over, and often come back to them the next day for another look and to formulate my thoughts.
Diana: I also find if I'm having trouble getting back into my own writing, it's helpful to take even thirty minutes for YARN work. Being around other people's words is really invigorating.
Kerri: Diana—that is so cool!
Kip: Agreed. I love how others’ work can be so inspiring.
Diana: I've also found editing inspiring because I have perfectionist tendencies with my own work. I could revise a paragraph all day. But I’m not going to put our writers through that kind of torture. It reminds me that we can fix what we can fix, and to keep moving forward in editing my own writing as well. Not to get too hung up.
On Trends in YA…
Kerri: Speaking of others’ work, are there any trends you two are seeing lately in fiction or poetry submissions for YARN? When we first started five years ago, we got a lot of angsty love poetry and angsty family fiction.
Diana: I see a lot of grief stories. Loss of a boyfriend, girlfriend, or family member.
Kip: Trends, hmm. I see some issue-y poems. More angsty than lovey at the moment.
Kip: But also some marvelously hope-filled work.
Kerri: Yes, I love seeing that in poetry—there is often pure joy in those subs. It's wonderful to read. Kip, what did you mean by “issue-y”?
Kip: Maybe body issues or religious issues or race or suicide.
Diana: Issue-y trends I see in fiction have to do with date rape or dealing with confusing sexual encounters. I'm actually happy to see those stories because it is such an important issue that hits so many teens. I'm glad to see people wrestling with it. Even if we can't run all of those pieces.
Kerri: Very true.
Kerri: Diana, since you've been reading fiction submissions for a few years now, do you feel like they are following trends in YA publishing at large? For instance, do you feel like the grief stories might be part of a Fault in Our Stars trend? Because I didn't see many of those five years ago.
Diana: When I started at YARN, I did see a lot of dystopian stories come in, in the height of Hunger Games fervor. Now the pendulum in YA publishing is shifting to more contemporary or realistic stories, and I do see a lot of those coming in.
Kerri: It's funny, because when YARN launched, it was at the height of the Twilight craze, but we actually didn’t see many paranormal subs. Though we did get a few, and one of my fave stories that we published during that time was called "Swamp Monster Bonanza."
Diana: And another trend I see in our submissions is friends (male/female or same-sex friends) figuring out if there is something more. That's a very authentically teen experience, but perhaps it’s harder to be original in treating that theme. The characters or voice or something about it has to be really special and different for it to stand out.
Kerri: So true, Diana—that storyline has been a common one from the start.
Diana: I also think in YA publishing we are seeing more LBGTQ books coming on the market, and I'm seeing more of those submissions for us, which is great.
Kip: That is great. I would love to see more LGBTQ poetry also.
Kerri: Me, too! Does this mean the We Need Diverse Books campaign is having an effect on apprising writers? I’m curious: Do any writers ever mention the WNDB movement in a query letter?
Kip: Not yet mentioned specifically in poetry, but I do hope it is having an effect, and I hope to see more diverse subs coming!
Diana: I have not seen that mentioned in a query letter. I would be curious to what extent our submitters—especially our younger ones—are aware of it. I do know that WNDB has made me more aware as an editor of striving for a balance in authors and subject matter.
Kip: Agreed—I think fewer teens know about it than adults, but hopefully it will just become the reality organically. I also look for diverse books for my girls to read, and it's starting to get easier, so hopefully this will become the new normal.
Diana: And you know, as editors, we are in a great position to introduce new voices into the publishing world. Agents have discovered writers on our site. It's one thing I love about this job. As a writer you can feel powerless, but as an editor you get to be a kind of gatekeeper, so to speak, and you realize what it means to let certain voices be heard—or not.
Kip: Excellent point, Diana.
Diana: It's a responsibility I take very seriously.
Kerri: Me, too. Actually, one of my campaigns on YARN from the start was to change young readers’ notions of what an essay is—so many young people hear the word essay and think, Boring. But we’ve published some really great, meaty essays at YARN. For nonfiction submissions, I would love to see more narratives of teen experiences. Memoirs and explorations of difference and diversity would be such rich ground for essays. For example: Say a writer went on a school trip to Mexico at sixteen, and something interesting happened ... That would be a great essay.
Kip: *is all ears*
Diana: Yes! I love essays. What kinds of essays are you seeing come in through submissions these days, Kerri?
Kip: Maybe we should pull together a kind of #MSWL, which is
a useful tool for querying writers: MS = manuscript WL = wishlist. Agents and editors use it on Twitter, and the website is mswishlist.com.
Kerri: Great suggestion! (Look for that in the future at YARN, readers!) To answer your question, though: Essay submissions in general tend to deal with problems with parents or thwarted romantic relationships. So when I see an essay on another topic, I get really excited. One I'll be bringing out this summer is about a teen who had to stop doing ballet, which she loved, because of a strange and unexpected injury.
Kip: Oh, that sounds amazing.
Diana: I love the ballet essay, Kerri—I'm instantly intrigued.
Kerri: I'm excited to share it! We went through a few rounds of revision because I really believed in it, and the writer worked very hard to make it great. She's in college now.
On Reading …
Kerri: Oh yes, reading. That thing all writers and editors should be doing.
Kip: Yes! I love it so. I wish I had another few hours in the day, but I make sure to read at least an hour a day.
Kerri: If I could change one thing about myself, it wouldn't be my hips or nose, it would be making me a faster reader. I am so slow.
Kip: My superpower would be to touch a book's cover and instantly digest its contents.
Kerri: Yes. And retain it.
Kip: Each little detail.
Diana: That always surprises me about you, Kerri, since you've made a career in the word business. But maybe you read thoughtfully, deeply. Slow is good, I think, especially in the era of e-readers and blog posts—I feel like words are flying by me at a mile a minute and I often have to force myself to slow down.
Kerri: I hope that is true, Diana! I do tend to retain better than my husband, who is super fast. He can pick up a book he's already read, get halfway through and think, Hey, this is starting to sound familiar ...
Kip: That's what I love about poetry. I usually read the subs out loud!
Diana: That's another reason I love editing work at YARN. You can't skim these stories. You get to know them line by line, word by word. You immerse. It's a feeling I rarely get when trying to devour a novel before bed or read stuff in snatches on my phone.
Kip: Exactly. It's like, you can take your time to read something slowly when it's short.
On Rejection …
Kerri: You know, rejection kind of loops back to the beginning for me, that question of why we feel compelled to edit and write …
Diana: Ah. How so?
Kerri: I've always said that I love YARN because it puts me on the “yes” side of the publishing equation. As a writer, I’m usually on the “no” side.
Kip: I love saying yes!
Kerri: I hate sending rejections and often put off doing it.
Kip: I find it painfully hard to say no. I wince every time. Like, actually wince.
Diana: I really love saying “yes” when it's a writer's first published piece!
Kerri: Because you know how it feels, right? There is really no good rejection letter. I've seen them all at this point in my writing career, I think.
Diana: I think the worst kind of rejection letter to get—and to give—is for the piece that came close.
Kip: Indeed. And often I loved parts of what a writer submitted and would honestly love to see more work, and I do say so in those cases.
Kerri: Yes, Diana and Kip. When I crafted YARN’s "standard rejection," I tried to acknowledge that as a writer, I totally understand how much it stinks to be getting that letter.
Kip: I also love working with a poet on a sub and then loving it so much when it becomes perfect.
Diana: Oh, the "we'd love to see more of your work" letters are tough to get. I got those for years. I'd wail to myself, "That was my best work! There is no more work!" But you know what? Now that I send those kinds of letters, I must say, they are sincere. I don't send them to everyone. If you get a "send more" letter, we really want to see more. We like your voice or style. We see something special. If you don't have more, go write more. Send again. Also, sometimes the "send more work" is because we're running some pieces during a season that may deal with a similar theme. I can only run so many "death of a parent" stories in a given season, for example.
Kip: Yes, in poetry, you might get a "so close" because it had something similar to other pieces, and more of a unique twist in some way (language, subject etc.) would have made it a “yes.”
Kerri: Knowing this from an editorial perspective actually makes me as a writer feel a lot better about those letters when I get them.
Diana: Or sometimes I think there is something special about the piece but it really needs substantial revision, more than I can realistically take on with that writer. If I think the piece needs more than two serious rounds of revision, I am very hesitant to take it on.
Kerri: Me too.
On Giving Back …
Kerri: Why work at YARN and juggle everything else?
Kip: For me, it's the thrill of discovery, whether in my own writing or in editing someone else's.
Diana: Ooh, I like that, Kip.
Kerri: That’s true for me as well.
Diana: For me, it's kind of a way to give back. I also learn so much from the writers we publish, and from seeing what people are compelled to write about.
Kerri: And there is something I used to say about YARN in the beginning, when there were no other YA lit journals doing all the genres and publishing writers of any age and stature, and even though there are more journals out there now, I think it's still true: YARN helps rescue short-form literature from the dreaded realm of the textbook and helps young readers and writers see that short fiction, poetry, and essays are happening now. And they are exciting.
Kip: Yes, absolutely!
Kerri: One yarn at a time.
Kerri Majors is the founder and editor of YARN. Her first book, This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World, was published by Writer’s Digest in 2013 and called a “must-read” by School Library Journal. Kerri has taught writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Columbia, where she also received her MFA in Fiction, and her short stories and essay have been published in Guernica, So To Speak, and the Midwest Quarterly, among others. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and daughter. Find out more at kerrimajors.com.
Kip Wilson Rechea is the poetry editor at YARN and a writer for children and young adults. She earned her Ph.D. in German Literature specializing in the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, and loves reading work by both living and dead poets. Her own work has been published in the Timeless and Spain from a Backpack anthologies, as well as in several magazines for children. She has a passion for languages, history, and diversity, and is drawn to poetry and gorgeous, lyrical prose. She lives in Boston with her family and on the web at www.kipwilsonwrites.com.
Diana Renn is the fiction editor at YARN and the author of three young adult novels published by Viking/Penguin: Tokyo Heist, Latitude Zero, and Blue Voyage. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Huffington Post, Brain Child, Literary Mama, Writer's Digest, The Writer, and others. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and son.